India’s Geopolitical Dilemma: Managing Western Pressure Amidst China’s Ascent

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi

India has encountered Western pressure following Canada’s association, as a member state of the Five Eyes network, between the Indian government and the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. The U.S. Ambassador to Canada, David Cohen, affirmed that Canada’s prime minister’s statements were informed by collaborative intelligence-sharing among the Five Eyes partners. He further stated that should the allegations prove to be accurate, they would represent a potentially significant breach of the rules-based international order.

India experiences political pressure to harmonize its foreign policy with Western directives in the context of Asia-Pacific geo-strategic dynamics. This pressure originates from multiple factors, including India’s intent to fortify strategic alliances with Western nations, particularly the United States, and its strategy to establish deeper economic and security connections with these states. Additionally, Western nations often underscore shared democratic values, urging India to align its foreign policy choices accordingly.

In light of China’s assertive conduct in the Asia-Pacific region, the United States has already redirected its attention to strengthening its partnerships with key Asian democracies to address this pressing concern. Furthermore, the trans-Atlantic allies of the U.S. who have been primarily focused on European security, have started contemplating their potential role in addressing the challenges posed by China in this region. It started with the NATO’s engagement with Eastern Pacific, and now its Five Eyes stressing India, the South Asian state partnering with the U.S. under the integrated deterrence framework, to materialize its potential strategic role in deterring China in the South and East Asia. 

The report addressing NATO’s strategic outlook for the next decade underscores the necessity for substantial adaptations to confront emerging challenges presented by Russia and China. Accentuating NATO’s need to extend its partnerships beyond its conventional Euro-Atlantic purview, the report highlights the necessity of engaging with Asian partners in response to the challenges emanating from China’s ambitions; and India within South Asia emerges as the primary interface for Western nations in this regard. 

Essentially, while the report refrains from explicit mention of India, it implicitly suggests NATO’s consideration of India as a potentially significant partner in addressing evolving security challenges, particularly in the context of China’s ascendance. The report’s overarching emphasis on expanding partnerships and confronting global challenges underscores India’s significance across various discernible dimensions. Firstly, India’s status as a prominent South Asian capable state, combined with shared concerns regarding China’s assertive behavior, underscores its strategic relevance to NATO, especially in the Indo-Pacific context. Secondly, the report hints at the potential inclusion of India as a valuable non-member partner in addressing common security concerns at a global scale, thereby highlighting the prospect of broader international collaboration. Thirdly, India’s role in counterbalancing China’s growing influence is implied, offering potential contributions to both regional and global security endeavors. Finally, India’s involvement is envisioned to inject diverse perspectives into NATO’s strategic deliberations, thereby enriching the alliance’s capacity for nuanced analysis and response to regional and international challenges. Taken together, these inferences underscore the acknowledgment of India as a consequential actor within the evolving landscape of global security and cooperation.

India has strategic relevance to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy when securing a balance of power in Indo-Pacific is concerned. For instance, as per the reports by the Indian media, the Indian policymakers got into debate with the sitting government over paragraph 18 of the U.S.-India joint statement post Indian Prime Minister’s visit to the U.S. that explores the feasibility of deploying “over-the-horizon” counter-terrorism capabilities in northwest India, likely encompassing diverse military and intelligence operations. It underscore ongoing discussions and inquiries by U.S. policymakers and officials concerning regional security and counter-terrorism strategies, with India being contemplated as a possible partner or site for such initiatives.

Notably, in order to secure balance of power in Indo-Pacific regional complex, the core U.S. allies have also openly included the Indian Ocean in their official publications, exemplified by The Pentagon’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), Australia’s 2009 Defence White Paper, and Japan’s 2011 National Defense Policy Guidelines. This heightened official attention to the Indian Ocean can be attributed to influential works such as Robert Kaplan’s 2010 book “Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power” and research documents originating from institutions such as the Naval War College, the American Enterprise Institute, the Lowy Institute (Australia), and the Ocean Policy Research Foundation (Japan), among others. These comprehensive strategic assessments have collectively addressed a wide spectrum of security concerns in the region.

However, the extensive involvement of India in geopolitics, particularly in alignment with Western powers, carries a gamut of potential consequences. Foremost among these is the risk of compromising its strategic autonomy, with India potentially compelled to subordinate independent foreign policy prerogatives to the interests of its Western partners. Additionally, such entanglement heightens the susceptibility to being drawn into conflicts or disputes that may not intrinsically align with India’s core national interests. Moreover, there exists the prospect of economic dependence on Western markets or investments, rendering India vulnerable to economic pressures or sanctions in the event of geopolitical discord. Geopolitical entanglement can also instigate regional instability by eliciting concerns from neighboring states, thereby engendering conflicts or tensions. Domestically, it may encounter opposition or backlash, notably if it is perceived as undermining India’s sovereignty or national values. This scenario could further extend to encompass diplomatic isolation on the global stage and impose enduring ramifications, illustrating the intricate considerations India must navigate in its geopolitical engagements. To effectively manage these challenges, India’s foreign policy apparatus must astutely balance its national interests, uphold strategic autonomy, and adopt a multifaceted approach to international relations.

In 2018, a substantial reconfiguration of U.S. strategy took place as the nation restructured its most prominent combatant command, Pacific Command (PACOM), into the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM). This strategic adjustment marked a pivotal recognition of the Indian Ocean’s heightened significance in the realm of both national and international security. This departure represented a notable shift from the United States’ prior position, wherein the Indian Ocean played a secondary role compared to the Pacific, despite the emphasis placed on the Indo-Pacific as a critical strategic domain within the National Security Strategy. Two key factors contributing to this strategic alignment include the essential role of the U.S. base in Diego Garcia for Middle East operations and China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region. This significant development positioned Indian Ocean’s centrality in national and international security considerations.

Regrettably, the United States finds itself in a situation where its allies do not share a unanimous perspective concerning their engagements with China. Moreover, in numerous instances, there exists a lack of alignment between these allies and Washington regarding the most effective approach to managing China’s conduct. India’s entanglement in the integrated deterrence framework is significant for the United States and the Western democracies based on its geo-strategic proximity to China, economic capability, and democratic identity. However, the autonomous nature of Indian foreign policy is a simultaneous challenge.

The writer is associated with the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, Pakistan. Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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